Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Eat 'Em Raw or Roasted, Then Recycle Shells for Reef; Scientists Collect Oyster Shells for a Marine Restoration Project

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Eat 'Em Raw or Roasted, Then Recycle Shells for Reef; Scientists Collect Oyster Shells for a Marine Restoration Project

Article excerpt

Byline: TERESA STEPZINSKI

BRUNSWICK - Disposing of smelly shells after an oyster roast can be a problem.

Scientists with the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service have an answer: Recycle. They are collecting the bumpy little building blocks that are essential to a healthy marine ecosystem for an oyster reef restoration project along Georgia's coast.

At least 30,000 pounds of oyster shells are needed by spring for the Living Shoreline Restoration Project on Sapelo Island in McIntosh County. An additional 100,000 pounds are needed by then for a similar project on Tybee Island in Chatham County, said Casey Sanders, an extension service research technician working on the project.

Clam, conch and whelk shells also are being collected for the project.

The shells will be used in an ambitious experiment testing techniques to stabilize eroding creek banks on the two islands, Sanders said.

The project calls for planting the empty shells to create oyster reefs. The reefs should stabilize and prevent further erosion of creek banks. Scientists believe the planted shells "will encourage the establishment of natural oyster reefs. The reefs provide habitat for a wide variety of marine life, she said.

Scientists consider oysters a "keystone species" that help keep the coastal ecosystem healthy. In dense populations, oysters can significantly improve water clarity and quality by filtering algae and pollutants, said Christine Griffiths, a spokeswoman for the Nature Conservancy in Georgia.

The nonprofit conservation organization is working with the marine extension service, Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Restoration is vital because decades of over-consumption, pollution and declining habitat have decimated the once-massive oyster reefs in Georgia and other coastal states, Griffiths said.

"The results of the Sapelo Island restoration project will have implications on what is done along the entire East Coast. A lot of eyes are watching what happens here," Griffiths said.

Shells for the Sapelo Island reef restoration are being collected at a recycling center recently set up at the Champney River Boat Ramp on U.S. 17 south of Darien. There also are shell recycling collection sites on Tybee Island, Jekyll Island and in Brunswick.

Volunteers are needed Saturday to help bag shells at the Brunswick collection site at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources headquarters, 1 Conservation Way, a road intersecting U.S. 17 at the northern end of the Sidney Lanier Bridge, Sanders said.

There will be two bagging sessions: from 9 to 11 a.m., and noon to 2 p.m. Project organizers will provide gloves, bagging materials, snacks, water, sunscreen and insect repellent. Volunteers should sign up as soon as possible by calling Sanders at (912) 264-7323, she said. …

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